The Futureheads—The Return of the Futureheads

Towards the middle of the previous decade, a slew of guitar bands ruled the public consciousness on both sides of the Atlantic. In America, The White Stripes, The Strokes, and the Yeah Yeah Yeahs were wowing audiences with their high-energy live shows and stellar studio recordings. In the U.K., a similar crop of bands like Bloc Party and Kaiser Chiefs were also making a lot of noise of their own. But, the best of the British bands from this scene were undoubtedly Sunderland’s The Futureheads.

The catchy, angular, and deeply-personal sound of the Futureheads was rooted in a love of DIY punk rock like The Jam, XTC, and Fugazi, as well as seminal songwriters such as Bruce Springsteen and Kate Bush. Their self-titled debut album became an instant smash hit when it was released in 2004, and the group would go on to release four more critically-acclaimed LPs before quietly and curiously disbanding 2013. Later it was revealed that lead singer and guitarist Barry Hyde had been struggling with his mental health, and in a BBC interview in 2015, drummer Dave Hyde—Barry’s brother—confirmed that the group “was no longer a working band.” That is, until now.

On August 30, the newly-reunited Futureheads will release Powers, their first album in 7 years. From his backyard garden at his home in Sunderland, Barry Hyde sat down for a very honest and candid interview with AQ, discussing his road to recovery, how the band went about the process of getting back together, and—above all—the future of The Futureheads, arguably the greatest rock group to emerge from Britain since the glory days of Britpop. 

When I first heard that The Futureheads were getting back together, I literally flipped my wig. During the mid-two-thousands, when you guys were very active among the other guitar bands from Europe and America, I felt The Futureheads were the cream of the crop. So when the band quietly slipped away into the shadows, naturally, I was bummed out—and a little bit confused. Can you tell me what was going on in those last few months of 2013, before you guys decided to put the band on hold?

Yeah…. Well, you know, I’d been having some personal problems. From, in the vivid sense, from 2011, when I was trying my best to kind of keep it all together, I ended up having unmanageable problems in which I had to go into psychiatric care. Actually, when the band went on its hiatus—even though that is maybe not the correct term—that is how I broached it with the lads. I was actually sitting in the psychiatric hospital for the third time, and I realized that I had to make some fundamental changes in my life in order to stand a running chance of not being what’s called a spinning door mental health patient… where you are just kind of in and out of this hospital for six months, or something. The lads were very supportive of it, but it wasn’t an easy decision for me. And I know that it wasn’t easy for them, either. [But] as soon as I made that call and got the support from the rest of the band, it was an almost instantaneous transformation, which allowed me to have enough space in my life, and I committed my time to understanding how to sort it out. 

It took a little while to kind of find that direction again. As a person separate from being the lead singer in a band—and it seems almost absurd, because at the end of the day, it’s just a band— but what you do with your time and what you do with your mind and your creativity essentially defines who you are, and I’d lost myself. I had to kind of rebuild from scratch. 

So, you know, I became a chef after a little while and I was able to get out of the house and stuff like that. I became a chef and was making and working mainly with pastry. Then I was able to begin my life again. All this time, I was becoming more and more interested in the piano and writing music for piano and teaching, and that led into a very successful career as a teacher, and that eventually allowed me to remember why I started music in the first place, by mentoring younger musicians who were trying to unlock their creativity. I found that I was able to show them, to some degree, how to go about that, and that was a very rewarding thing. It allowed me to put my head above the water, so to speak. That led further and further, deeper and deeper, actually, into music and the art of songwriting. 

So, after that turmoil, which was really horrible—I’ve got to say it was an awful time for me and everyone around me—I kind of disappeared. I was catatonic for some of it. I couldn’t speak a great deal and I couldn’t leave the house. 

Barry, when you say that you, you mean it quite literally, I take it.

Yeah, you have got to think about the contrast between being someone who was flying from continent to continent and who—I would class it as just being a “being of the world,” a being of the globe—to someone who was living in a couple of rooms and was unable to foresee any meaningful developments… That contrast was probably the hardest thing about it.

You have since said about that time that you didn’t quite feel like a Futurehead, and also that you had experienced “a hypocritical, spiritual arrogance.” What exactly did you mean by that?

Well, what it means is that I’d become obsessed with set types of spirituality, such as the works of a guy called George Ivanovich Gurdjieff. I kind of became obsessed with yoga and meditation…. I went to Arizona for a spiritual retreat and spent seven days in the desert and thought I’d unlocked all of the secrets of life, which is what you call a false awakening. It was very real and very vivid and very traumatic for everyone around me, because I kind of transformed into a spiritual idiot [laughs]. I was getting to that point of schizophrenia where I thought I had superhuman strength, like being able to control weather and electricity and telekinesis, and all of these things that happen when you are very out of touch with the very real physical limitations [of life].

So, tell me a little bit about the road back from that.

Well, you know, I’m very cynical now. I think that cynicism has kind of saved my life because I kind of woke up from the awakening, you might say—how am I going to survive in this world? How am I gonna have a day? How am I going to have a lifestyle? How am I going to be, for lack of a better word, happy? ‘Cause I think happiness is a very misunderstood thing, because real happiness is kind of on the middle of the spectrum where you might be ambitious, but not frustrated, and you learn from your mistakes rather than be destroyed by them, you know? And finding where that middle of the line is is what life is all about…. I would describe it as like peeling an onion… all of these layers, you’re peeling them and peeling them and peeling them, and eventually there’s nothing in your hands. That’s a real awakening. And then suddenly you think ‘Ah, I know there’s no answer,’ but you have to ask those questions. I guess if you find yourself asking those questions then you basically are going to unravel the process of what’s called self-realization. You realize that you are kind of a blank canvas, and then you can consciously create meaning—meaning was thrust upon me by, I would say, by good fortune. 

I would say that one of the most dangerous things about being a performer is that you can quickly lose the ability to generate self-esteem. You know, your esteem is coming from others, coming from a round of applause, from the good review, from being desirable. That’s why so many performers, as we would say it, lose the plot. And you can think of some major cases and the amount of people that were just so detached from reality, that they are living in some kind of fantasy realm. People like Michael Jackson come to mind, where it’s like what you do and what you know is not a true understanding of society or how to be in society. You think that you’re making a difference, but you’re just dwelling in your own reflection. That’s like a feedback loop that can eat you up very quickly. It happens all the time.

It’s like being ensconced yourself, like an insular delusion.

Delusion, yeah…. Delusion is [a better word] than disillusion. You know, I became disillusioned so much so that my illusions disappeared and there was nothing left. That’s fairly traumatic, right? When you can’t fully believe in your personality. It’s very common with artists, because it is ultimately inwards. It’s this balance between inwardness and outwardness. You know, outwardness is the performing and you put that energy out, and then the inwardness is how you deal with those ruptures, I guess, if you’re lucky. Or, perhaps, dealing with parts of rupture—[like] playing in front of 30,000 people, to seeing that dwindle in front of your eyes and not knowing how to cope with that. It’s some kind of strange, artistic, professional trauma…. There’s no guide for that. It’s very personal. You have to then make your own role. Once it’s happened, it’s too late. 

Well, let me ask you this: when a band like The Futureheads come up together at a young age, as lads first, but then as musicians working together and striving for success—when something like what happened to you and the experiences that you went through occur, what happens for everyone involved? Does it feel like an abrupt halt?

Well, at first it wasn’t so much abrupt, it was more like a downward curve of everything going on…. everyone got swept away with this thing. I would say, you know, there’s a relatively small amount of bands who are able to become international artists, ourselves included. All of these bands are kind of found in the mixer, in the blender, or you might call it like a hurricane, really…. We found ourselves being from a DIY, punk background, playing in small bars and squats in Germany, to playing on Conan O’Brien and Jimmy Kimmel and meeting Dennis Hopper. They were also thinking actually that this music is quite unusual, and we never felt secure with that, so I guess we couldn’t confidently stride forward into it—like a band like The Strokes, who became instantly iconic and classic, you know? Instantly the soundtrack of the modern world; It became just everyone’s heartbeat…. We weren’t aiming for that, but therefore we didn’t really know how to capitalize on it, didn’t know what to do with it. We always enjoyed playing live and we always did our best, and, you know, I think for the most part, it was impressive and dynamic and interesting, but never crossed over fully. That’s obviously a music industry term, to crossover abroad. It was always slightly—there was enough flavors in there that were in the pop bubble that enough people allowed us to make it solid commercially.

It sounds like that roller coaster ride contributed to your mental health and the state of your well-being.

Potentially. But I think to be honest with you…. I ended a process I wasn’t conscious of, and it was always going to end up in the same spot, regardless of what was at stake—business-wise or whatever. Some people manage to never open Pandora’s box, but I certainly did. The Futureheads is very much a band, and that was, I guess, what was so difficult for the other members—and for myself, as well—in trying to get on with life after this incredible experience that we never kind of consciously tried to create. 

I read that Ross [Millard, guitarist] never really gave up hope that the band would get back together. But, at what point did you personally feel like you were ready?

Well, you know, the truth is that you have to want to pick up your instrument, and I kind of lost interest in the electric guitar. But, I regained it. I never fell out of love with the acoustic guitar, [learning about] gypsy jazz, finger-style playing, bluegrass improvisation…. It was all very much not electric guitar music. But, I got offered a gig in London to play a solo, acoustic Futureheads set at a club night…. [I was] extremely scared to accept the gig but was also thinking ‘I can’t turn it down. I’ve got to do this.’ So, I went down to London, and it was like the hottest day of the year, and I took down with me two acoustic guitars on the train, and the train was swelteringly hot by British standards. I had to make me way from King’s Cross [Station] to this obscure place in London. And it was a bit of a nightmare, but I got there with under five minutes to spare. I went out on stage and the room was full and I started the first song. The audience just sang every word all night, and I thought, ‘Wow, that’s something.’ Then I said to my agent, ‘See if anyone else wants to book me to do this,’ and there was a really good response, so I organized the tour. But, I realized that I hadn’t mentioned it to the rest of the band at all [laughs]. Because I felt a bit awkward about it, but I also didn’t want them to kind of signal that [I couldn’t] do it, because ultimately I was only playing the songs that I wrote in the band. So, I announce this tour and that was how the rest of the band kind of found out about it. I guess Ross did seem a bit upset, I think. A little bit of it was brought on by a lot of his sadness from 2013. But I was, you know, back into the guitar, and I thought, ‘Well, why don’t we see what Jaff [Craig, bass] and Dave [Hyde, drums] think?’ Dave was into it, and Jaff was like, ‘Maybe it’s time we tried to get some new stuff together?’ And we were like, ‘Why not?’

My understanding is that Jaff insisted that if you were going to do this at all, then there had to be new music involved.

Yeah, which I thought was very brave of him, because Jaff is a full time primary school teacher.

Totally…. So, with Powers coming out this week, is there a tour in the works and do you guys plan on going back out on the road?

Well, touring is really difficult for us because, you know, ultimately, we all do it with different things in mind. So you know, the band is like a creative outlet and we get to do gigs, but we cannot go anywhere unless it’s gonna make sense. Because, you know, I can’t justify going away for two months and leaving my partner with three children. Touring is a luxury to us now. A luxury that we appreciate and enjoy. We’ve got a bunch of festivals in the U.K. over this summer and we’re going to go on tour in December in the U.K. and play some, I’ll say, fairly big shows. We’re celebrating our first album and we would love to go back to America. I don’t know how it will all happen, unless there is some billionaire who wants us to come play their daughter’s 18th birthday [laughs]. You know, maybe he’s some kind of some eccentric, philanthropic culture vulture who is like ‘I love The Futureheads, come and play!’ I don’t know what’s going to happen, but we don’t mind so much because, well, you know, without wanting to sound trite, we’re really proud of this album that we’ve made and we’re enjoying the gigs that we are doing, and we’ll make the most of them. It’s very different now. I think it would be different regardless of our lifestyles, but you know, we’re happy to keep it as a special thing. We will continue to release music and do fun stuff, and obviously, we’ve all got our own interests. Ross is great and does graphic design and organizes festivals. Jaff is a primary school teacher. My brother is doing amazing things like landscape gardening and block paving and doing crazy people’s mansions. And I am currently trying to set up a cultural hub. [There’s] a beautiful building in Sunderland, and my friend and I may be offered the opportunity to take it over and make it into a music venue and restaurant and bar and music school. And I’m kind of currently designing a menu for the restaurant. Life is rich, you know, so we’re not going to be sweating our bollocks off in the back of a van in Italy for a laugh. I’d love to come back to the East Coast and play. You know, if you can make it happen, Dan, please do it. But, you know, I have no hard feelings if you can’t [laughs].

he Futureheads—The Return of the Futureheads